Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams granted Tuesday morning a request from police Officer Edward Nero for a bench trial.
Nero has been charged with second degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment in the case of Freddie Gray, who died from a broken neck suffered while in the back of a police van last year.
Nero formally requested the bench trial, also known as a court trial, after his lawyer Marc Zayon, carefully laid out the differences between a bench trial and a jury trial.
“Listen carefully,” Zayon said.
A jury would have to reach a unanimous verdict, he explained. If the jury can’t reach a unanimous verdict, his client could face another trial. And this could go on until the jury reaches a unanimous verdict one way or the other.
In a bench trial, the judge decides guilt or innocence.
Because of the change, prosecutors withdrew a motion asking for a jury to see the van that transported Gray to the Western District Police Station.
Williams also ruled that any discussion of the legality of the knife found on Gray during his arrest would be excluded for the moment. And he limited what lawyers can say about Gray’s injuries.
Williams also ruled that cell phone videos of Gray’s arrest can be admitted into evidence but without the sound.
The trial is scheduled to begin Thursday after the judge granted the state’s request for a one-day delay because of a power outage at the State’s Attorney’s Office over the weekend prevented prosecutors from preparing their case.
Prosecutors are to open their case Thursday and the defense will present its side next week. Both sides remain under a gag order issued by Williams.
Former prosecutor Warren Alperstein, who has been observing the trial, said Williams made it clear in his rulings that emotion will not sway his judgment.
“I think it was very clear as Judge Williams laid out his rationale that he was trying to be fair and impartial and I think he did exactly that,” he said.
Alperstein said that the state’s theory appeared to be shifting after Williams’ rulings; that the assault “occurred during the chase, apprehension and frisk of Freddie Gray.”
“The reckless endangerment charge is likely to center on the state’s allegation that Officer Nero should have played a larger role in securing Freddie Gray in that wagon,” he added. “And because Officer Nero did not secure and restrain Freddie Gray in that transport wagon that amounts to reckless endangerment.”